EagleHerald/Brian Bell
Brock Barrette of Menominee shoots a layup in front of Houghton’s Will Romano during the first half of Monday’s Division 2 District 33 opening round win in Menominee.
EagleHerald/Brian Bell

Brock Barrette of Menominee shoots a layup in front of Houghton’s Will Romano during the first half of Monday’s Division 2 District 33 opening round win in Menominee.

MENOMINEE — A strong defensive effort in the second half by the entire Menominee boys basketball team made life difficult for Houghton in Monday’s Division 2 District 33 opener and the Maroons were eventually able to pull away in the second half for a 69-53 victory and Menominee’s first postseason win since 2017.

While it took a collective effort to hold Houghton to 17-of-70 (24 percent) shooting from the field, a trio of Maroons had the tall task of following around the Gremlins’ high-scoring guard Brad Simonsen, and while it is nearly impossible to prevent him from getting his, Brock Barrette, Dante Sartorelli and Zach Starzynski did just enough to force him into some ill-advised shots to help their team advance to the district semifinals. Simonsen still scored 30 in the game, but just two other Houghton players got in the scoring column and after dropping 17 in the first half Menominee held him to 13 in the final 16 minutes.

“Dante, Brock and Zach were outstanding tonight,” Menominee coach Sam Larson said. “Their defensive effort and commitment to making life tough on (Simonsen) was absolutely phenomenal and I really truly think we wore them down towards the end of the game. I don’t think we did a very good job of giving early help on him in the first half. He’s a heck of a player and you have to give him credit because he can do it all on the court and you can’t have late help on a player like that, but we got much better on both ends in the second half and those three were key for us all night.”

Simonsen scored Houghton’s first five points but Menominee took the lead early on by finding the open man against the Gremlins’ zone and jumped out to a 10-5 advantage. Menominee’s lead grew to as big as 10-points in the opening quarter (19-9) off a 3-pointer and then a free-throw line jumper from Keagan Monroe but Simonsen answered with a catch-and-shoot corner triple to end the quarter with a 19-12 deficit.

Menominee’s advantage hung around 10 for the first four minutes of the second quarter until Barrette nailed his second 3-pointer of the game to give the Maroons a 30-18 lead. On the other end, however, Simonsen hit a triple of his own to spark a 9-0 run capped by a putback on an offensive rebound from Pablo Salgado to cut the Maroons’ lead to 30-27, but Menominee’s Cooper Conway ended the half with a putback of his own to take a five-point cushion into the break.

Houghton extended its zone press to begin the second half and Menominee had some issues getting the ball up the floor, turning it over on its first two possessions and giving up a pair of free throws to Salgado to get the Gremlins within three.

“We switched up our press coming out of the second half and started getting some opportunities we just didn’t finish enough of them to get the boost we needed in the end,” Houghton coach Jared Lawson said. “That could have been a breaking point because we start getting in (Menominee’s) head then, but we didn’t do that and they continued to build confidence as the third quarter and second half went on.”

The Maroons answered with Sartorelli putting an offensive rebound back up for a basket and Monroe scored his first basket since the first quarter with a thunderous two-handed throw down in traffic after a steal near mid-court to hike the lead back up to 36-29.

“I think that was a little bit of frustration coming out because he had not gotten many good looks since the first quarter and he made a great play picking off that pass and getting out in front and taking off with it,” Larson said.

The first and only player to score for Houghton besides Simonsen and Salgado got on the board shortly after Monroe’s dunk and it was Blake Willey who turned a steal into a transition 3-pointer and Simonsen followed with a fadeaway jumper to make it 36-34, but Houghton’s offense went quiet after that and Menominee started to pull away.

Menominee ended the third quarter on a 14-6 run to take a 50-40 lead into the fourth quarter and scored the first nine points of the fourth for the Maroons’ biggest lead of the game. Houghton tried to bring more pressure at the Maroons but they held their own as Monroe was able to get the ball in the middle and made the right decision, dumping it off multiple times to Conway who had 12 of his 14 points in the last 12 minutes of the game.

“When we got it to two and (Menominee) was turning it over, after that we just couldn’t make a shot,” Lawson said. “Then they just sort of very slowly started adding to their total and when we really started ratcheting up our pressure in the fourth quarter they did a great job of finding the exposure on the backside and getting some easy buckets.”

Salgado had 20 points to back up Simonsen’s output and Willey had the lone 3-pointer.

Menominee had four players score in double-figures with Monroe leading the way with 17 points and 10 rebounds; Conway had 14 points and six rebounds; Sartorelli had 12 points and Barrette chipped-in 11 points. The Maroons also outrebounded Houghton 47-34 with Keaton Uecke having 11 to lead Menominee.

The Maroons will now play host to Great Northern Conference rival Gladstone in Wednesday’s district semifinal. Menominee won both previous matchups with the Braves this year.

HOUGHTON (53) — Simonsen 30, Salgado 20, Willey 3. FTs: 13-17.

MENOMINEE (69) — Monroe 17, Conway 14, Sartorelli 12, Barrette 11, Bellisle 5, Uecke 4, Starzynski 4, Badker 2. FTs: 12-18.

Halftime score: Menominee 32, Houghton 27